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Controversial Rezoning Application Near Brooklyn Botanic Garden Put On Hold By Temporary Restraining Order

The rezoning application process for two 35-story towers at 960 Franklin Ave in Crown Heights has been halted by local activists

Just over a month after being certified by the City Planning Commission (CPC), the rezoning application for 960 Franklin Ave in Crown Heights is back on hold.

On March 2, a Kings County Supreme Court Judge signed a temporary restraining order (TRO) filed by City Council candidate Michael Hollingsworth, and Alicia Boyd and LaShaun Ellis of Movement to Protect the People (MTOPP), halting the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) which started on February 1.

This is the second time a TRO has been granted against 960 Franklin developers Continuum Company.

Alicia Boyd announces the TRO to onlookers. Photo: Jackson Ibelle.

The restraining order was filed in response to a virtual hearing held on February 24. The petitioners claim the virtual ULURP process was a violation of their rights. 

"We've been telling the City that the virtual hearings do not work," Boyd said.

"They definitely don't work in low to moderate income communities, because we don't have access to these platforms. There are so many people that I meet that don't even have email addresses, they don't have computers, they don't have WiFi access, so they are excluded from the process."

Boyd also said since the hearing was capped at 100 people, scores of community members were unable to testify. 

Despite stating its opposition to the project, the CPC certified Continuum's application on the basis of needing community input.

"If everyone is against this project, then why was it certified?" asked Michael Hollingsworth. Photo: Jackson Ibelle.

"This should just be a nonstarter, but the point of the ULURP process is to let the public tell us what they think before we say what we think," City Planning Commissioner Anna Hayes Levin said.

The two proposed 35-story towers at 960 Franklin Ave have been met by massive resistance from the outset. While activist groups like MTOPP have been the most vocal about their opposition, Mayor Bill De Blasio, City Council Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo and speaker Corey Johnson have all come out against the project in its current design. 

Among the main concerns is the impact the proposed towers would have on the nearby Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG). The shadows cast on the garden, as well as the Jackie Robinson Playground, would have a disastrous effect on plant life.

Detractors also claim the size of the proposed building would not fit in with the neighborhood, and potential rezoning raised fears the floodgates would open for more developers to build high-rises in the area.

In response, Continuum laid out two alternative plans for the towers at Wednesday's virtual hearing.

The current 34-story proposal calls for 1,578 rental units, 50% of which are set aside as affordable or workforce housing. The new 17-story alternative would have 1,170 rental units and only 25% affordable or workforce housing. There is also a third 'as of right' proposal, which would include 518 condominium units, none of which would be affordable housing. Continuum said the final plan would not require rezoning or city permissions.

"For folks who live in this community, we know that when these developments come into our neighborhoods, they always say affordable, but we know that it's not affordable to us," said Hollingsworth, who lives adjacent to the proposed development and is running to replace Cumbo in the 35th District.

The petitioners are due in court virtually on March 12. Boyd said that she will be asking for the hearing to be made open to the public.